Hundreds attend cultural arts center opening

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a poem titled “Lifters and Leaners.”

“There are just two kinds of people on earth today … the people who lift and the people who lean.”

Mack Gibson, chairman of the Troy Pike Cultural Arts Center’s board of directors, quoted Wilcox Sunday in expressing his appreciation to the many “lifters” who helped make the dream of transforming an aging building into a state-of-the-art cultural arts center.

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The Grand Opening ceremony for the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts engrained Sept. 14, 2008, as a historic day in Troy. The ceremony marked the beginning of a new era in the cultural arts for Troy and Pike County.

The ceremony was held at 2 p.m. at 300 Eat Walnut Street and those in attendance were characterized by Gibson as “lifters” who have given back to the community they call home.

He cited four events that were initially significant in making the Johnson Center for the Arts a reality.

First, the City of Troy provided $200,000 in seed money for the arts center. Secondly, USDA Rural development provided a low-interest, 40-year loan of $1.689 million for the renovation project. Manley and Mary Johnson’s gift of $500,000 and the hiring of Richard Metzger as executive director of the Troy Pike Cultural Arts Center provided the funds and leadership for the project to move full speed ahead.

“When the former Troy Post Office opened in 1912, it was a gathering place for women to swap recipes and gossip. Men gathered on the steps to discuss the weather and politics and to gossip,” Gibson said. “You would always meet someone you knew at the post office.

“Once again, this grand ol’ building will be a gathering place for our community and it will be a permanent location for the arts. Through the renovation of the old Troy Post Office, we have kept the original but redefined its purpose.”

Tonya Terry, emcee for the event, brought an impressive lineup of speakers to the stand and each had praise for the visionaries who saw beyond what was to what could be.

Metzger called the day’s events a “big deal” and said the decision to come to Troy as head of the cultural arts organization was the best decision of his life. He expressed appreciation to the board of directors, the committees and the many individuals who helped keep the dream alive.

Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., chancellor of Troy University, said the arts are a journey of exploration and transcend the barriers of language and culture.

He called the partnership between the Troy Pike Cultural Arts Center and Troy University a true partnership and pledged that the best is yet to be.

Dr. Manley Johnson, son of the late Holman and Ethel Johnson, said that he knew that his parents would be “so pleased to see what has happened here today.”

Holman Johnson was the Troy “town photographer” for 40 years and Ethel Johnson was a longtime supporter of the arts.

A Johnson family relative, who is stationed in Afghanistan, made arrangements for a flag to be flown there in honor of the day’s events and also for a Night Stalker to carry the American flag also in honor of the festivities.

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford praised the efforts of the many who have made the Johnson Center for the Arts a reality.

“When you see the downtown areas of small towns drying up, then so will the towns,” he said. “The public and private investments in this arts center is something we can all be proud of but we still have more to do. The downtown area is the heart of a city. If the heart goes, so does the city.”

Lunsford said the heart of downtown Troy is beating strongly.

Al Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, closed the program.

“It would be an understatement to say that today is a significant event,” he said. “But it is significant, not only for Troy, but for the state of Alabama.”

Head said Alabama has a wealth of arts centers and museums and the Johnson Center for the Arts adds a gem to the cultural landscape of Alabama.

Just as Holman Johnson captured the images of Troy for 40 years, so will the Johnson Center for the Arts capture the essence of the South and beyond, Head said.

“The Johnson Center for the Arts will be a beacon of culture and beauty,” he said. “That light has been turned up significantly and shown brightly today.”

The defining moment of the day was when the ribbon was cut and the doors of the Johnson Center for the Arts were officially opened.

A dream is now reality.